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Westwood Holdings Group Inc (WHG) Q3 2019 Earnings Call Transcript

By Motley Fool Transcribers - Oct 30, 2019 at 8:30PM

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WHG earnings call for the period ending September 30, 2019.

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Westwood Holdings Group Inc (WHG 3.20%)
Q3 2019 Earnings Call
Oct 30, 2019, 4:30 p.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Third Quarter 2019 Westwood Holdings Group Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

And now I'd like to introduce your host for today's program Julie Gerron, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer. Please go ahead.

Julie K. Gerron -- Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer

Thank you, and good afternoon. Welcome to our third quarter 2019 earnings conference call. The following discussion will include forward-looking statements, which are subject to us to known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, which may cause actual results to be materially different from those contemplated by the forward-looking statements. Additional information concerning the factors that could cause such a difference is included in our press release issued earlier today, as well as in our Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 30th, 2019 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements.

In addition, in accordance with SEC rules concerning non-GAAP financial measures, the reconciliation of our economic earnings -- in our economic earnings per share to the most comparable GAAP measures is included at the end of our press release issued earlier today.

On the call today, we have Brian Casey, our President and Chief Executive Officer; and Terry Forbes, our Chief Financial Officer.

I will now turn the call over to Brian Casey.

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon, and thank you for taking the time to listen to our quarterly earnings call. As always, I'll start with comments on the market environment and investment teams and finish with comments on our business.

Volatility continued in the third quarter as markets worldwide fell in August, only to rally once more in September. In the US, the Fed pivot officially became a 180 [Phonetic] as expectations were realized and the Fed cut rates twice, citing muted inflation, slowing business investments and international uncertainties as rationale for their decision to cut rates.

At the aggregate global level, concerns persisted over the direction of the economic cycle, thanks to declines and leading economic indicators in key markets and uncertainty from the US-China trade dispute. The US added to investor apprehension at the end of the quarter with the launch of the Presidential impeachment inquiry. Increased volatility and an inverted yield curve in the US created a favorable environment for high quality investments as investors turn to companies positioned to weather and economic slowdown.

Companies with strong cash generation and solid balance sheets performed better during the quarter. History shown that post a yield curve inversion, such high-quality factors can deliver alpha for several more quarters. As a result of the third quarter's volatility, the US markets were positive, while global equity markets ended with a slight decline for the quarter.

With the election rhetoric set to heat up approaching the 2020 presidential election, we anticipate further uncertainty as markets assess each candidate's potential impact to the financial markets. The Fed continues its shift toward easing monetary policy constraints to further support the economy and our expectations are for global interest rate policy to remain supportive of equity markets.

We will remain vigilant and assessing absolute risk and client portfolios and protecting client capital as market volatility shows no signs of abatement. Our first goal is to protect our clients' capital, particularly as we move later and later into the business cycle. We do this by investing in high quality businesses, which we believe have limited downside risk, principles that have served our clients well and continue to resonate with prospective clients.

Our US value equity products emphasized an approach of high quality and value which fared well during the volatile quarter and once again showed notable outperformance during August sell-off. SmallCap delivered another strong quarter, particularly during the sell-off in August and is over 800 basis points ahead of the Russell 2000 value during the third quarter of 2019. Our SmallCap mutual fund WHGSX 5 star rated at Morningstar is in the top decile on a trailing 10-year and year-to-date basis, and in the top quartile on a trailing 1, 3 and 5 year basis through September 30th of 2019. This is a great accomplishment for our portfolio management team and our entire team of research analysts who provide investment ideas for the SmallCap strategy. Interest in this strategy remains high and we're excited about its opportunity in the years ahead.

Our SMidCap strategy also finished better than its Russell 2500 value benchmark this quarter and for the first three quarters through September 30th is over 500 basis points ahead for the year. The trailing 3 year returns through September 30th are ahead of the benchmark and have begun to improve relative to peer rankings. We look forward to growing this strategy in the years ahead.

LargeCap value added a quarter of outperformance against the Russell 1000 value with strong downside protection during the intra-quarter sell-off. The LargeCap mutual fund WHGLX has a top quartile ranking on a trailing 1 year basis in Morningstar's large blend category, and is in the top third through the third quarter.

Our institutional strategy also has strong rankings in the investment manager universe, we're the top quartile rankings year-to-date and for the trailing 1, 3 and 5 year periods. LargeCap Select also managed by the LargeCap Value team outperformed adding further alpha to its more than 5 year track record. This product has maintained its top ranking in the investment universe among LargeCap value peers over the five year period ended September 30th. And is in the second percentile, over the last three years. Within our multi-asset strategies, our product lineup now holds an array of strategies aligned across the risk and return spectrum that are tailored for a client-specific risk profile and investment objective.

Income opportunity produced a quarter of strong absolute and relative returns. Good selection and active allocation in the longer maturity fixed income securities help provide very strong downside while delivering strong performance. The mutual fund WHGIX, 5 star rated at Morningstar is ranked in the top decile in the Morningstar 30% to 50% equity universe for the quarter and year-to-date through September 30th.

It is also ranked in the top 12% for the trailing 1 and 3 years, top quartile over a 5 year basis and top decile over the trailing 10 years as of September 30th. We expect this strategy to deliver an active allocation. At a point in the cycle, we're managing both fixed income and equities, can help provide higher income with less volatility than either an investment in fixed income or equity alone would provide. Our convertible strategies both global long-only and US long-only strategies were ahead of their respective benchmarks for the quarter. While our market neutral Income strategy, continue to build on its excellent start to the year.

The market neutral Income mutual fund WMNIX is ranked at the top 30% of peers for the quarter and year-to-date through September, it is in the 11th percentile and 6th percentile on a trailing 1 year basis among the Morningstar US market neutral universe. With the volatility in global markets likely to persist, the asymmetric nature of convertible bonds gives investors a lower risk equity proxy that should perform well relative to stocks.

Their low correlation equity markets coupled with low volatility and steady returns positions convertibles well in this environment. Our confidence that the uncertain future will create more volatility in markets has us extremely excited for the prospects of our convertible strategies.

In emerging markets, the Asia-Pacific region, perform best with strong performance in Korea, Taiwan and India. China posted yet another unimpressive quarter with the loss as the deepening domestic slowdown was met with only a tepid response from policy makers. Although still down in the quarter, India saw strong rally in September following a massive fiscal stimulus in the form of corporate tax rate cuts. Latin America fell [Phonetic] at central banks in the largest three markets, Brazil, Mexico and Chile implemented further monetary easing in the form of rate cuts. Our emerging market strategies all outperformed in the quarter and remain well ahead of their benchmarks year-to-date.

Emerging markets outperformed the MSCI Emerging Markets Index by over 100 basis points in the third quarter and is over 350 basis points ahead for the first three quarters. EM Plus also out performed the index in the quarter and year-to-date through September, while EM SMidCap beat the MSCI EM SMidCap index by over 250 basis points in the third quarter and is over 600 basis points ahead year-to-date through September 30th. Markets remain volatile and react swiftly and often irrationally to global and regional developments. We continue to be very focused on constantly evaluating the impact of developments around our holdings and taking advantage of the irrational over reactions by the markets where appropriate.

Shifting now to Wealth Management. Our teams in Dallas and Houston continue to produce great results. Client retention remains high at over 97% and our Houston group again posted strong new business flows that were up nearly 100% year-over-year. In fact, Houston has set a new high watermark in new assets gained. We held several client events that have been effective toward maintaining close relationships with existing clients and building trust with our prospective clients. Business in Texas is booming with job creation and significant wealth creation providing a nice tailwind for our private wealth pipelines.

Our tax efficient Select Equity strategy managed out of the Houston office outperformed the Russell 3000 index for the quarter. Select Equity is designed to provide a high quality, low turnover tax efficient portfolio with strong risk controls for downside protection. We saw our risk management metrics in full action in August when markets fell nearly 2% on tariff concerns and the strategy outperformed its benchmark.

Year-to-date through September, our downside capture in this strategy has remained below 80% on days when the market was down more than 1%. Select Equity gained assets in both our Houston and Dallas offices with assets under management surpassing $700 million. This is an impressive start for a product that began in 2017. And we look forward to completing a three year record at year end.

Westwood Private Bank held its grand opening last week and we had over 60 clients and prospective clients in attendance. The concept of having everything in one place with the ability to lend against an existing portfolio combined with bill paying and concierge private banking services is resonating extremely well with our clients.

As we perfect [Phonetic] the model in Dallas, we intend to work with Westwood Private Bank to extend the brand to Houston pending regulatory approval. In institutional and intermediary sales, our institutional and retail businesses had third quarter inflows of approximately $260 million that were offset by outflows of $700 million producing net outflows of $440 million.

Outflows were primarily in the Income Opportunity strategy, however, other strategies including emerging markets, LargeCap and SMidCap also had outflows. Breaking down activity on the strategy level, our SmallCap franchise continues to gain momentum with searches and inbound inquiries on both the institutional and retail front. SmallCap is our most successful strategy year-to-date in terms of net flows. Our expanded and reorganized institutional intermediary sales and service groups are fully in place. Both groups are generating significant meeting activity and growing our new business opportunity pipeline with key platform approvals advancing our SmallCap strategy in the intermediary space.

Our portfolio managers have done several interviews recently in an attempt to increase visibility in tandem with our 5 star rating attracting greater interest. We have recently been approved at one of the top three consulting firms and we are beginning to see search activity. In SMidCap we lost a client due to manager consolidation, but with improved performance, we are now able to move into authent [Phonetic] and are participating in several new searches. Market Neutral Income was our largest gainer of net new assets during the quarter as our partner Aviva Investors allocated additional assets to the strategy. In Income Opportunity, our sales and service teams are working to ensure all parties, clearly understand our path forward and our portfolio managers continue to work on producing the quality results that our clients expect.

However, as we've discussed in the past, not all consultants have embraced our expanded approach and investment team changes. As a result, there were some consultant recommendations earlier this year to clients recommending a move away from income opportunity. However, some of those clients have been slow to act and outflows and income opportunity were less than expected in the third quarter. We are capitalizing on Income Opportunities' 5 star rating and top decile Morningstar investment performance and peer rankings year-to-date with a new sales campaign in the retail space and a roadshow across all territories in the fourth quarter.

Sales in our large cap strategy remain challenging due to lack of demand for active management despite the strategy's strong performance. Recent outperformance has resulted in some clients overweighted in the LargeCap asset class necessitating a rebalance which gave rise to outflows in the third quarter for the strategy. We have taken and continue to take steps to strengthen our relationship with intermediaries, clients and consultants. Performance has strengthened across many of our strategies and we are optimistic in our ability to grow. Our sales and service teams are focused on targeted activity and client engagement. Our on-the-ground wholesaling is lifting sales, particularly in the previously uncovered territories with over 900 meetings held during the quarter.

We are pursuing more platform approvals to make our funds more widely available to investors, and we hope to see positive flows into our mutual funds in 2020. With increased sales activity, our pipeline is healthy and spread across several different strategies. We expect some of the active opportunities to approach decisions later this year or early in 2020. Our product management and investment teams continue to work closely together to ensure that our product offerings are aligned properly for commercial success and focused in areas where we can add value and grow assets under management. We spent most of this year completing our investment and distribution and getting the right talent on the field.

We have spent considerable time on product evolution and assessing the commercial viability of our product line. We have closed four non-core products and evolved others along the multi-asset continuum with an eye toward a clear vision and focus on our core competencies. We are now positioned to serve investors across absolute return, income oriented and total return outcomes which will be formally announced early in November.

Also conditional on the FCC's [Phonetic] approval, we expect to announce a new sensible fees structure in three mutual funds as part of our mission to better align fees with client outcomes. As we invest in building retail intermediary distribution, it is critical for the positioning of our brand in the marketplace that we emphasize high quality value equity and expanded multi-asset franchise in emerging markets expertise. We have invested heavily to get the right technology and people in place, so that we are positioned to take on new opportunities, support our clients' needs and return Westwood to a growth trajectory.

Our sales resources and activity levels are at the highest point in our history, but building new relationships, reinvigorating long-standing relationships and introducing new strategies, teams and capabilities takes time. Westwood strategies are well positioned in areas were active management can take advantage of mis-priced securities and deliver excess return and specific outcomes. Clients are looking for differentiated results and we have demonstrated an ability to deliver a differentiated client experience as evidenced by our high active share equity strategies with strong track records.

The asset management industry has reached a point of overcapacity and appears right for consolidation in the years ahead. With passive taking more than a 50% market share, there is less active management opportunity which is driving price cutting while at the same time all firms are experiencing rising data and technology costs. We are seeing a number of opportunities to acquire stranded teams or small firms looking for enhanced distribution. Our ideal candidate would be a firm with fixed income expertise, differentiated equity manufacturing and a private wealth business with an attractive demographic profile.

We continue to look for accretive opportunities and will always be disciplined with our shareholder capital. While near term results are clearly disappointing we've been building and transforming ourselves over the last few years in the face of adversity and industry headwinds. While many in the industry are simply waiting for the active management come back, we have made major investments and are taking bold steps to reinvent ourselves, to become less of a product focus firm and more of a solutions-oriented firm. We have reduced headcount, cut underperforming or commercially unviable fund, built the largest sales force in our history, added transformative technology including a private wealth platform dedicated to connecting digitally with younger generations, added financial planning and a state planning, private equity and partnered with Charis to create Westwood Private Bank.

In the years ahead, the industry is likely to consolidate. Pricing and compensation will adjust to new levels and only the strong will survive. We believe the investments we've made will not only allow us to survive, but to be a leader, a place that teams or firms want to join. We are excited to see the array of solutions, we have created gain traction in the years ahead, while regaining sales momentum with our traditional institutional and retail products. We appreciate our shareholder's patience and firmly believe that the future is bright for Westwood and all our stakeholders.

I'll now turn the call over to Terry Forbes, our CFO.

Terry Forbes -- Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Thanks, Brian, and good afternoon, everyone. Today, we reported total revenues of $19.9 million for the third quarter of 2019, compared to $21.7 million in the second quarter and $29.9 million in the prior year's third quarter. The decrease from the second quarter was primarily due to lower average assets under management resulting from net outflows.

The decrease from the prior year's third quarter was primarily due to lower average assets under management resulting from net outflows, partially offset by higher performance based fees. Third quarter net income of $1.1 million or $0.13 per share compared to $1.9 million or $0.22 per share in the second quarter. The decrease primarily related to lower total revenues, partially offset by a $0.3 million foreign currency gain, net of tax in the current quarter. Economic earnings, a non-GAAP metric was $3.9 million or $0.46 per share in the current quarter versus $4.8 million or $0.56 per share in the second quarter.

Third quarter net income of $1.1 million or $0.13 per share compared to $5.4 million or $0.62 per share in the prior year's third quarter. The decrease primarily related to lower total revenues, partially offset by lower incentive compensation expense and $0.3 million foreign currency gain net of tax in the current quarter.

Economic earnings for the quarter was $3.9 million or $0.46 per share compared to $9.5 million or $1.11 per share in the third quarter of 2018. Firmwide assets under management totaled $15 billion at quarter end and consisted of Institutional assets of $8.3 billion or 56% of the total; wealth management assets of $4.3 billion or 29% of the total; and mutual fund assets of $2.3 billion or 15% of the total.

Over the year, we have experienced net outflows of $3.8 billion and market appreciation of $2.2 billion. Our financial position continues to be very solid with cash and short-term investments at quarter end, totaling $101.2 million and a debt-free balance sheet.

Our Board of Directors approved a quarterly cash dividend of $0.72 per share payable on January 2nd, 2020 to stockholders of record on December 6, 2019. This represents an annualized dividend yield of 10% as of the closing price on October 29th. That brings our prepared comments to a close. We encourage you to review our investor presentation, we have posted on our website reflecting third quarter highlights as well as a discussion of our business, product development and longer-term trends and revenues, earnings and dividends.

We thank you for our interest in our Company and we'll open the line to questions.

Questions and Answers:


Certainly. [Operation instructions] And our first question comes from the line of Macrae Sykes from Gabelli. Your question please.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Well, good afternoon, everyone.

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon, Mac.

Terry Forbes -- Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Hey, Mac.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Could you comment about the outlook for fundraising for EM strategies, now that the performance has improved this year, what are you seeing in terms of end market demand for those products?

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, the EM asset class is certainly one that has it, wind at its back. I think when investors look around the world and they look at the various asset classes that are known for being likely to produce alpha, EM is certainly one of them. We've had some good activity recently with the improved performance. We hope to have something to announce next quarter with one of the larger firms that we are in chats with on the EM strategy. So we're excited to talk to you about that at a future date.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Great. And then my follow-up is, in terms of capital management, how should we think about your strong balance sheet, high payout ratio and now increased feedback about potentially growing organically?

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think as far as our balance sheet goes, we've always valued having a strong balance sheet, we've never had any debt and we find that it's something that's important for us, as a long-term shareholder as far as the second part of your question with respect to organic growth, I would say that we have worked really hard to build a sales team like we've never had before and that sales team, if we add in the platform meetings that they had in addition to the meetings that our wholesalers had with advisors around the country. We had over a thousand meetings during the quarter. That's unprecedented. And most of these meetings with the advisors were the first time that they have ever met anybody from Westwood. So we have a lot of greenfield opportunity. We have a lot of territories that we've never sold in, and we feel really good about our profile going into 2020. In addition, we have had a number of conversations with platforms.

And as you know, platforms are shrinking their product shelf and it's very difficult to get onto a platform these days. But we have made a lot of progress, and really have three live opportunities and hope to have something announced when I talk to you next, next quarter.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Okay, just to clarify in terms of -- the last question, it was more about inorganic growth in your desire to potentially at fixed income perhaps, Wealth Management. I just wanted to understand a little bit more about your capacity for using cash investments to fund those against desirability to keep the payout high and also to keep your balance sheet?

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I see, OK. Sorry, I misunderstood your question.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Yeah. I'm sorry.

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I thought it was around organic growth. Well, certainly having a strong balance sheet with over $100 million in cash allows us the flexibility to talk to very high quality firms that would have an interest in joining -- in joining Westwood. As far as the dividend goes, that's something we talk about every quarter and we'll talk about it again next quarter.

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

Great, thank you very much.

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mac.


Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And I'm not showing any further questions in the queue at this time, I'd like to hand the program back to management for any further remarks.

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Great. Well, thank you. Appreciate everybody's time in listening to today's call. If you have, would like further information, please visit our website at For any specific questions, feel free to call myself or Terry Forbes, our CFO. Have a great afternoon. Thank you.


[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 28 minutes

Call participants:

Julie K. Gerron -- Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer

Brian O. Casey -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Terry Forbes -- Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Macrae Sykes -- Gabelli & Company, Inc., -- Analyst

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